Hangtown Haven, the city’s legal encampment for the homeless will end its one-year experiment in communal living on Nov. 15 when its Temporary Use Permit expires. The camp has more than 30 residents, and a community council of four residents who run the camp and enforce its regulations for the safety of all and a host of volunteers. In this four-part series, different residents from the camp will be profiled. In their stories, you may see glimpses of your own.
Guy “Ed” Johnson has lived in El Dorado County for 51 of his 56 years. He graduated from El Dorado High School and he currently resides in Hangtown Haven where the Mountain Democrat talked with him on Oct. 23.
He’s a slight man with sad blue eyes, anxious not to make a fuss or bother anyone. He’s been in the Haven since May, the first real piece of luck he’s experienced since 1981.
In 1981, Johnson was a plumber with a wife and two children. While he was at work one day, his wife and children were killed in a car accident. Less than a month later, Johnson himself was in a car accident in Diamond Springs in which he killed another person. Then he was hospitalized with an infection from a mosquito bite that put him in a coma for a week. When he awoke from the coma, he had to relearn how to walk and speak. Some of his memory ability was damaged.
Within a three-month span of time, Johnson had lost his family and himself, but he kept working. “Working was the only thing that kept me alive,” he said.
Over the next few years, his three brothers and his mother died. “I watched my brother be disconnected from life support in 2004,” said Johnson.
Asked if he got any help with the sorrow he’s suffered, Johnson shook his head. “No, I just dealt with it.”
He contracted a MRSA infection and endured five surgeries to save his life. At the camp, Johnson pulled up his shirt to show the scars on his back from the dreaded disease. He has flashbacks from the accidents that still wake him, screaming, in the night.
“I was a cab driver for a long time,” said Johnson, “but then my eyesight started to go and I lost my license to drive.” With the loss of his job, he also lost his home and at 52, he was diagnosed with diabetes — the cause of his failing sight. He takes insulin three times a day.
“I was living on Mosquito Road, taking care of an old lady and I got sick,” said Johnson. “I spent six months in the hospital and then I came here.
“I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t want to be anywhere,” said Johnson. “I was at rock bottom and it took months before I would talk to anyone. I don’t want to let people in because I always lose them, but these people,” he gestured to the camp residents passing by, “and Becky, changed that. I never had a group of people before. I’ve spent my whole life alone.”
Diabetes is not only taking his eyesight, it is taking one of his legs as well. “I can’t stand for any length of time or walk more than 50 feet, so I can’t work anymore,” said Johnson. “They don’t know why it’s happening, but I know. My nerves in that leg are burned out.”
When Hangtown Haven closes in November, Johnson doesn’t plan to go to the nomadic shelters. “I don’t want to go to the shelters. I’ve been there before. I’d rather be out in the cold than to be inside and miserable. Going back in the woods is all I can do.”
Johnson’s expectations for his future are low. “I lost all hope years ago. One day at a time is how you have to live. In six months, I’ll be gone,” he said.
He’s planning to toss the things in his tent he can’t carry. “I came here with nothing and I’m going to leave camp that way too. I’ve done it before,” he said.
“I don’t like being helpless,” said Johnson, his blue eyes gazing out at the camp. “You have to fight for everything you get for your whole life. I’m tired of fighting.”
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.